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What is paediatric fatigue?

Respiratory fatigue in children is when the muscles that help the breathing process become tired and make it harder to breathe. This commonly happens during vigorous exercise when breathing increases. The child then becomes tired as they are not getting enough oxygen to power their muscles.

What causes fatigue in children?

Normal fatigue happens when the muscles used for exercise get tired. Respiratory fatigue happens when the breathing muscles become tired before the muscles being used for the exercise become tired. Blood is re-directed to the breathing muscles to help with breathing and the child becomes tired as the muscles become weak and they get out of breath.

What are the symptoms of fatigue in children?

Symptoms of fatigue in children include:
  • Heavy breathing
  • Child out of breath
  • Child feeling tired
  • Child feeling weak

What can physiotherapy do to help children with fatigue?

Physiotherapy involves different stages of treatment. The child is taught deep, relaxed breathing techniques so that they can slow down their breathing and recover when they are immediately out of breath.

The main treatment is exercised based so that the child’s cardiovascular system improves and they become less fatigued during exercise. Aerobic exercises such as games involving running are used to build the child’s fitness. The treatment is carefully structured so that the exercise is gradually increased to match what the child can safely achieve.

Advice is also given to the child and their parents or carers about living a healthy lifestyle. Education is given on exercise and healthy eating. Advice is also given on pacing activity so that the child is doing the right amount of exercise.


Fatigue can affect a child’s breathing and reduce their activity levels. It is caused by tiring of the muscles that help the child to breathe. Physiotherapy is aimed at improving the child’s cardiovascular system and improving their aerobic fitness. Education is also given on living a healthy lifestyle. Physiotherapy can help children with respiratory fatigue.

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